Children are never too young for their first camping trip, and you’re never too old to take a child camping. If you happen to be an old hand at camping, this is preaching to the choir. But if you’re a novice, and not really sure about camping out, read on.
Camping doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Don’t let your own inexperience stop you from sharing an adventure with your children that they’ll always remember – as you will.
FIRST OF ALL, WHERE WILL YOU GO?
That’s easy; beginners should try a developed campground – safe, clean, fresh water and sanitary facilities. You’ll pay a modest fee for your own camping spot – picnic table, fire pit and grill usually provided. Often campgrounds have a caretaker who can help you out and answer questions.
HOW DO YOU FIND ONE?
Go to the website for the nearest national forest. Or try Recreation.gov. There are also private web sites to help you. It’s a good idea to make a reservation so you’ll be sure of a spot.
How long should you camp? One or two nights for starters, a weekend is good.
WHAT DO I NEED TO TAKE?
Keep it simple and don’t spend a fortune right off the bat. The basics include a simple tent, inexpensive sleeping bags, inflatable mattress, folding chairs, ice chest, flashlights or a lantern, and a water container. You can use things you already have at home, rather than buying new. Make a list of everything you might want – matches, sunscreen, insect repellant, rain tarp, can opener, etc.
WHAT ABOUT FOOD AND COOKING?
You can prepare food at home and bring it, or buy something that doesn’t require a lot of preparation. Most people find outdoor cooking part of the fun, but keep it single – hot dogs are an all American favorite and sure kid pleasers. Paper plates and plastic silverware reduce hassle. Don’t forget the marshmallows for toasting on the campfire (cut your own stick and hold them over the coals, not the flame).
WILL IT BE SAFE?
Developed campgrounds are safe and there will be other people around. Many are near water, so watch small children. Don’t worry about wild animals, seeing them is part of the fun. But don’t feed animals or leave food out. If there really is an issue, like bears in some areas, you will be warned about it. Use common sense on hikes and while exploring the forest, and set rules for children on how far they can go from camp. Take bandages and ointments in case of minor scrapes, and perhaps something to relieve a bug bite or sting.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IN CAMP?
You don’t have to do anything. Some people just like to sit around and relax, maybe read a book. Kids want to be active, but they can bring toys, depending on their age. Hiking and seeing the scenery is always a winner. If there’s water around try wading or swimming, or help your kids give fishing a try. There will be great opportunities for photography. The campground supervisor will gladly offer tips on special places to visit and things to do. You don’t have to do anything special – having a chance to spend time with your family without phones, videogames and television is special enough.
GET OUT AND DO IT!
There’s no better way to learn than to get out and give it a try. Keep your first camping expedition simple and you and your children will have a great time and be ready to come back.
Originally published July 15, 2016 in LiveOutdoors Six Things To Consider When Camping With Kids